Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Dear Sweet Tirzah

Well, this is long past due, even for a guy who only ends up posting once or twice per year.  As many readers of this blog likely know, I became a father on June 23, 2013 when a beautiful baby girl came into our lives.  She is truly a delight and even in the two short months I have had to spend with her it is abundantly clear that she is and will be one of my greatest blessings.  I have set a goal for myself to write to each of my children every year on their birthday to tell them what they mean to me.  As part of that goal I intend to write to them on their very first day, the day they are born.  I've discovered with Tirzah (Hebrew - "She is my delight") that it likely won't happen close to the date of birth, as the end of a pregnancy and the impending arrival of a child are filled with many other concerns.  I do, however intend to get the first birthday letter written before each child turns three months.  Well, sweet girl, I am writing this with just under three weeks to go.  I love you.

September 4, 2013

My dear sweet Tirzah,

Happy birthday! I'm only a few months late, I hope you forgive me.  Your mom and I have been busy getting to know you and experiencing the joy you bring to our lives.  Both of us had to wait a while to find one another and it took a few years after that before it was time for you to enter our little family.  I want you to know how wonderful your mother is and how dearly she loves you.  No day goes by in which she doesn't tell me that every moment she loves you more than she did before, and more than she ever knew she could.  We found out you were coming last year while on vacation with your Grandma Garr, Uncle Steve, and Uncle Brett and his family in South Carolina, but it took a while before we started telling anybody.  We were so excited for you to come and we waited for the time when we could have an ultrasound to find out if you were going to be a boy or a girl.  When the day came, we sat in the room looking and you were covering up so that we couldn't tell.  The doctor ended up ordering a second ultrasound to check on your mom, and we looked again to find out if you were a boy or a girl and you were covering up again.

So, we didn't know your gender at that point and decided we would wait and find out when you were born.  In this day and age there is so much you can know beforehand, and your mom and I discovered that waiting has its own joys.  When your due date came (June 12) you showed no signs of any hurry to get here, probably because you loved your mother so much you wanted to stay as close to her as you could.  After almost two weeks you still hadn't arrived so the doctor scheduled to induce labor and bring you here.  Even after the doctors started to help things along, you weren't in any rush and we were at the hospital all day on June 22.  Things started moving towards the end of the day and close to midnight we knew you were coming soon.  And on June 23, 2013 at 12:43 a.m. you were here.  In an amazing moment of serendipity I was able to see you and the doctor asked me whether you were a boy or a girl.  That moment was one of the highlights of my life as I was able to tell the doctors and nurses that we had a sweet baby girl.  Of course, the next question everybody had was your name.  I hesitated, your mom and I had discussed several names and new that Tirzah was our favorite if we had a girl, but I wanted her to see you before we named you.  Then, as the doctors were taking care of you, your mom looked at you from her bed and said "I think she looks like a Tirzah, don't you?"  And so you were named, my sweet Tirzah, our delight.

Oh, sweet girl, we have such hopes for you and I could go on forever telling you about them.  But, over the past few months I've had the joy of getting to know your little spirit, to see your heart-melting smile, and to hear your joyous laugh.  And I think the best way I can tell you of my hopes for you is to say that I hope you are always you.  I hope as you grow older you continue to show that beautiful smile to as many people as you meet.  I hope you continue to laugh whenever your heart desires.  I hope you continue to look out at the world with those big, bright eyes and take it all in.  There is so much to love in this world and there's so much to learn.  There are scary things, and we'll do our best to help you deal with them.  But more than anything, I hope you will live up to your name as you already do; I hope you will be my delight, and your mom's delight, and the delight of every person with whom you come in contact.  You are such a bright light and I am so glad I get to be your father and watch as you go on this journey.  So, baby girl - Happy Birthday! (two months, one week, and five days late).



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Render Not Alien Those Who Ought to be Bound by Fraternal Affection

On StoryLane, I was asked to answer the question "Was there a crucial political event that shaped your life?"  I entitled this post as a paraphrase from George Washington's Farewell Address to Congress.  I am an independent.  I don't know when I first began to be an independent, it may be earlier than I realize.  As such, I share here several memories that have shaped my political attitudes, especially in that spirit of independence from party.

One of my first memories, my first political memory is from when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I know I wasn't older than five because I can clearly remember being downstairs and from the time of my 6th birthday to adulthood I never lived in a two story house.  My mom must have left the tv on while she was working in the house and I walked through the living room and noticed a man on the tv.  That man was President Ronald Reagan, and I remember thinking at the time that he seemed like a nice, good man.  I have no idea what he was saying.  I think that my lifelong interest in politics and political leadership probably began that day.

My next vivid political memory is from the Presidential Election in 1992.  I was 9 years old and remember going to school with my fourth grade classmates and discussing the relative value of the candidates.  We probably didn't have the strongest arguments for any of our positions, but then again is that far distant from most political opinions?  I can clearly remember discussing who should be elected between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot with my friend Silas Davidson during lunch time.  I was a fervent Ross Perot supporter, although I couldn't tell you why now... Perhaps my parents seemed to like him.  Anyhow, at nine years of age I was already exhibiting a fair bit of an independent streak.

As I aged I became a Republican at some point.  I would come home from high school and turn on the O'Reilly Factor every day and was disappointed whenever Bill was on vacation and there was a substitute host.  I had several books by Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly and found their arguments persuasive.  To be a Republican in small-town Wyoming was no rare thing, but I was unusually interested in politics and economics.  As part of our senior year we were required to participate in a mock legislature.  We drafted bills, held elections for party leadership, and engaged in debate over proposed legislation.  It was really a good exercise and valuable lesson in the mechanics of legislative government.

As I said, we held elections for party leadership in our little mock legislature and I wanted to be the Speaker of the House.  The elections were about to be held and I believe I may have been the only candidate for Speaker other than Sarah.  Mr. Kennedy, our high school principal and the instructor for our Government class, informed Sarah that she could not run for Speaker of the House because she was a Democrat (Democrats, of course, were the minority party in my home town).  Sarah decided she wanted to be Speaker of the House so she switched parties.  When it came to vote, my party voted for Sarah to be the Speaker of the House.  It may not have been for the best of reasons, but at that moment I began again my journey towards independence.  I was disillusioned by a party-system that was so shallow that members of my party would vote for a person to lead them who had, only moments before, been a Democrat.  Strange, now I long for a political system where party loyalty would mean so little... As I paraphrased from our first president above, party politics are anathema to democracy in that they "render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."  My high school class didn't care about party politics then, but I did.  And on that day, I decided I was no longer a Republican, I was an independent.  But I did it for the wrong reason, I was upset that there was no party loyalty, not realizing the damage that can be done in the name of said loyalty.

Finally, the political moment that was most crucial to my political life.  I read the aforementioned Farewell Address to Congress by President George Washington.  President Washington was the only U.S. President who was ever unanimously elected president by the electors.  He was a man independent of party and he saw the damage that a two-party or even a multiple party system could have to the principles of democracy.  I remember that the hardest class for me to take in my undergraduate studies was not difficult because the material was difficult to learn or understand;  it was challenging to me because it taught that the two-party system was essential to our democracy.  That is something that I feel very strongly is not true.  I don't want a one party system or a multiple party system, I want a no party system.  I want what President Washington wanted, a political system where we recognize our fraternal bonds while disagreeing on certain topics.  I want a political system where people caucus not based on party but change their caucusing depending on topic.  I want a political system where our leaders can reach an opinion on each legislative question independent of party and vote in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and their constituents rather than on the dictates of their party.

As I read George Washington's Farewell Address to Congress for the first time, I felt as though I finally knew where I fit in politically.  I fit in with my own party, which sometimes coincides with the Democrats, sometimes the Republicans, sometimes the Libertarians or Greens, but where my ideals always fit in with me.  I no longer felt the need to accept the opinions of others, from whatever source, without my own critical thinking over the topic.  When asked about my political leanings, the one position I hold most earnestly is this, to take a phrase from Mitt Romney, I am fiercely independent.  There are many political events that have shaped me, but reading George Washington's words have affected me more than anything.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our Google Fame

Welcome to my first new blog post in almost two years!  This one's short and just tells a funny story, hope you enjoy.  Also, I started posting on Storylane, a website where you share stories and will likely cross blog the more story oriented of my posts there as well as here.  Hope everybody is well.  On to the story.

Last night as we were watching some TV and discussing whether we should go to bed soon, my wife checked her e-mail and saw that somebody had posted a comment on our family blog.  What's interesting is that this was the third post from a complete stranger on a blog she had written about us installing new carpet in our home.  The fact that complete strangers were commenting on our blog became even more perplexing when we discovered that some of the recent visitors to the small family blog my wife keeps for us were from the United Kingdom and the Philippines.  What was bringing these people to our blog and causing them to comment?
Luckily, blogs these days let you look at the sources of traffic and analyze your outreach.  This wasn't something we'd done before on this blog as we weren't too concerned with driving traffic there, other than from friends and family.  After discovering the international flavor of some of our visitors we tried to see where they were linking to us from.  It quickly became apparent that we were Google's second result after running a search for "vacuum marks on carpet."
This was the second time I've been part of what I call Google Fame and the first time I got to share it with my wife.  Google Fame isn't real fame, and it isn't even Internet Fame as achieved by YouTube celebrities and others of similar ilk.  No, what I call Google Fame is when you discover that something you have written or in some other way contributed to the Internet becomes one of the top hits on Google.  There's something amazing about finding out that some little piece that you created has been seen throughout the world because something you wrote matched up just right with Google's search algorithm.
About four years ago I wrote a blog post where I explained the fallacy of the suppressed correlative in order to demonstrate a point.  To my surprise I found that I was getting visitors from throughout the world to my little personal blog.  As I investigated why I had people visiting my blog from so many places, I discovered that if you did a search for the "fallacy of the suppressed correlative" I was the top hit on Google.  Sadly, this is no longer true, you have to go to the second page of results to find my blog when you search for the "fallacy of the suppressed correlative" now.
I don't think that either Stephanie's blog now or my blog then were visited by a lot of people.  "Vacuum marks on carpet" and "fallacy of the suppressed correlative" are probably not the most common search terms and likely haven't led to that many people our little corners of the Internet.  But there's something really amazing about accidentally becoming one of the top hits for a random search term on Google.  Sometimes it's fun to have a little bit of Google Fame.

Addendum (02 December 2012 10:07 AM) - My friend Jessica Donbrosky shared some Google fame that she has experienced in the comments here.  If you have ever had Google fame, I'd love to hear about it!  Please feel free to comment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Inherent Contradiction of American Exceptionalism

I've been a little disturbed lately by how others perceive the world and wanted to share with you a contradiction that I've observed in American Ideals. But first, a quick introduction. The other day I read this article on the situation in Egypt arguing that Democracy often leads to Tyranny and that we should not be quick to cheer on the revolution that is happening in Egypt right now. I can only assume this also means that we should have been against our own revolution, the color revolutions that were instrumental in the end of the Cold War, the current Tunisian, Jordanian, and Yemeni revolutions, and all similar revolutions where a downtrodden people sought to overthrow a despotic government that was holding them down.

I also read a comment on facebook recently with an argument saying that you can either believe in American Exceptionalism or you can agree with President Obama. Of course, in that actual post referring to the President with any term of respect would have been impossible, but I digress. Last year when the health care reform bill was passed I read a different facebook comment about why the reform was bad saying that we have the greatest health care in the world and we don't want to mess with that.
Arguments like these frustrate me to no end because they promote this concept of American Exceptionalism, that we are the best at whatever we do. That this nation has been blessed to be the greatest nation on earth and as such we will succeed. I'm sorry, but although we are a great nation and are the strongest nation militarily, and the most powerful economy in the world, we are not guaranteed to be such nor do military and economic strength equal greatness in all areas. For all those who believe we have the greatest health care system in the world, I apologize but the facts just do not back that up. Our health care system is broken, the new law attempts to fix it; I believe it helps but understand how others can disagree. I do not understand how anybody can disagree with the objective reality that our health care system is in disrepair.
Similarly, one of the best regarded documentaries of 2010 is a documentary entitled "Waiting for Superman." You can watch the trailer here or at the end of this post. The United States has fallen behind most other developed countries in terms of educational achievement and yet our students still believe they are the best in the world. American Exceptionalism is dangerous because it promotes complacency. We believe we're the best and refuse to acknowledge evidence to the contrary. As such we sit and watch others surpass us all the while burying our heads in the sand and saying to ourselves, "we're the best."

But my argument today is not because of the inherent dangers in American Exceptionalism, it is because American Exceptionalism contradicts our most treasured ideals. Last night before the Super Bowl they read the Declaration of Independence, word for word. It is the document that stated our ideals, despite its lack of legal force it is a vital and important part of our history and identity as a nation. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." These are words that should echo in every patriotic American's heart, they are profound and powerful and encapsulate so much of what the United States is at its best, and strives to be. It does not say, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Americans are created equal and all persons of any other nationality are inferior to us." Yet that is what American Exceptionalism says at its core, if America is the best then every other nation is worse. If you believe that the United States deserves to be the greatest nation in the world because of an inherent value in its people, then you do not believe all men are created equal.

President Ezra Taft Benson, in his seminal address "Beware of Pride" spoke about the nature of pride, that pride seeks to put itself above another. If we want to be humble, it is okay to be proud of our country but we must also acknowledge that there is good elsewhere as well. We are not the best at everything, until we recognize that and seek to learn from the great examples of those who have excelled where we do not, we will sit complacent and watch as the rest of the world passes us by. Then we will be behind everybody else in all things except our confidence. I'm proud to be an American because we haven't historically done that; we've promoted democracy and cheered it on, even when it may not be in our best interests. Because we're not just self-interested, we want for all to rise up and be great.

I'm a Mormon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In Loving Memory...

I woke up Saturday morning to find that the most Christlike man I have ever known passed away. Even those who only casually knew my grandfather, Boyd Fugal, could tell that he was a great man. He was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, a successful businessman, and a church leader. But more important than all of these things, he was a loving husband, father, and for me grandfather. Forgive me if you think this hyperbole, but "if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Boyd Fugal, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." I miss you so much already Grandpa, but I am so grateful to know that you are in a better place and will suffer no more. If I had been no more fortunate than to have made your acquaintance my life would have been greatly enriched. To have lived with you, learned from you, and felt of your love is such a monumental blessing that I do not know how to express it.
After returning home from my mission I was blessed to be able to live with Grandma and Grandpa Fugal in their home in Pleasant Grove for a few years while I was attending BYU. Already in their 80s and having successfully raised nine children and helped raise several more grandchildren, they had done enough parenting to fill several lifetimes. I am so glad that they so warmly welcomed me into their home. During the time I lived with them, they made me feel as though I was one of their own children and provided me with some of my fondest memories. That he could make each of us grandchildren feel that way is a testament to how loving he was when you realize that he had 38 grandchildren and 70 great grandchildren. I only wish I could sit and watch Perry Mason as Grandpa nodded off into sleep again, or sit and enjoy Lawrence Welk on a Saturday afternoon with them.
Grandpa's passing was not unexpected. In October he suffered a major heart attack just prior to his 89th birthday, and we didn't know if he would see his birthday this year. I was only able to speak with him once or twice by telephone after that, but I could tell that he was prepared to return to his Heavenly Father and was in quite a bit of pain. Selfishly, I hoped that he might hang on until Stephanie and I returned home for Christmas so that I could see him one more time in person, but that was not meant to be.
Grandpa taught me hard work. Growing up I always admired Grandpa, when I was 11 or 12 we went to visit and he asked if my brothers and I would be willing to get up early the next morning and help provide service for somebody he knew was in need. I think all of us went grudgingly because we were supposed to be on vacation, but Grandpa always taught by example. No matter his current situation, he would serve and work. Even in his eighties he would regularly be seen out fixing fences, planting corn, cleaning out irrigation systems, weeding, and keeping things in order. Grandma would always fret and worry because Grandpa's body couldn't keep up with everything he wanted to do - but he loved to work. When my parents were first married my dad worked for Grandpa's company and he has often told us how Grandpa led by example. Grandpa never expected anybody to do work he wasn't willing to do, and once on a construction job he had an accident that resulted in a serious injury. As soon as Grandpa was out of the hospital he was back at the job site, digging in the trenches as if nothing had happened.
Grandpa taught me generosity. I've already mentioned how Grandma and Grandpa welcomed me into their home and took care of me while I went to college. If ever there was anything I needed, Grandpa was willing to provide it, and he tried to provide it even if I didn't ask for it. Every year that we planted corn would be followed by visits to the neighborhood dropping off big bags of delicious sweetcorn. On another occasion when I was younger Grandpa and I went for a walk in the early morning, he showed me the neighborhood where he lived, where my mother had grown up, the house I was brought to as a baby, and land that he used to own. I didn't know then, but much of that land that he owned he donated or gave away to good causes or to help support his family. I have never known a more generous person with his time, energy, or means.
Grandpa taught me about forgiveness. My parents' marriage did not end well, and my mother was hurt more than I think I will ever be capable of understanding. It didn't take much time being around Grandpa to know how much he loved his family, and my dad seriously hurt one his little girls. But, in a situation where it's understandable for there to be some enmity and distrust, my Grandpa has always been a support to me and my family. On more than one occasion he has taken me aside and said "I always thought Russ was a good man" and asked me about how he was doing. That example of Christlike love and forgiveness was more comfort to me than I think Grandpa ever knew. I love my dad so much, and so many people had unkind things to say that to hear the loving words of Grandpa were, and continue to be, a tender mercy to me.
I can remember few times in my life when I have felt worse than after disappointing Grandpa. Knowing him and living with him and his example has made me a much better man. If I live to be half the man that Boyd Fugal was, I will have lived a great life. I was able to visit the graves of many of our family members each year with Grandma and Grandpa on Memorial Day and to learn about my family history. I was able to enjoy drive Grandma and Grandpa as they attended weddings, gatherings, and shows. And every time I was able to speak in Pleasant Grove was more exciting because I knew that Grandma and Grandpa might be able to attend and Grandpa was always so supportive with his words and advice. I experienced my first true heartbreak while living with Grandma and Grandpa, and he was there to give me gentle encouragement and a much needing blessing from a spiritual giant. And I was so happy to have Grandma and Grandpa attend as I graduated from BYU. Without their support college would have been an entirely less fulfilling experience. I treasure my memories of sitting down to breakfast as Grandpa asked me what I was learning and how my life was.
Of all my memories of Grandpa, my fondest are little tender moments I observed between him and Grandma. My grandparents were married for more than 65 years, astounding to me as Stephanie and I approach our first anniversary. And yet, after all that time they were still learning from one another and about one another. And they were still very much in love. One morning as we sat down to breakfast Grandpa started telling me a story from his youth, before Grandma and her family moved to Pleasant Grove from Provo. As he finished his story Grandma turned to him and said "I didn't know that!" I thought it was so awesome to see how two people could know one another so well and yet still learn more about one another. On another occasion Grandma was out of town on a trip with all the girls (my aunts and mom) while Grandpa and I stayed home. I answered the phone one evening and it was Grandma calling to talk to Grandpa, but he was out in the field working on his farm. Grandma asked me to have him call her when he got back inside, and then with a little extra tenderness I could hear in her voice she said, "and tell him that I miss him." When Grandpa came back in I told him that Grandma had called and that she wanted him to know that she missed him. I watched as that amazing smile of his changed and he choked back a few tears and said in a moment of complete sincerity "well, I miss her a lot too." After so many years you could just tell that they still meant the world to one another.
I was single a lot longer than I expected to be, and I knew that my grandparents would eventually pass on. I secretly hoped that I would be able to meet my wife before they did, so they could know her and so that she could see what wonderful people they are. Just over a year ago I was able to take Stephanie home and introduce her to Grandpa. We had a nice little dinner with Cy and Brittany, Grandma and Grandpa all in their little dining room. He gave her one of his big hugs and said "well, I think the two of you should team up." When Stephanie and I sat across from one another in the sealing room the sealer commented how in all his experience he had never sealed together two people where all four grandfathers were present in the room and what a special experience that was. I am so glad that Stephanie got to meet Grandpa and that he was able to witness at our wedding. To have him there was one of the great blessings of my life.
Grandpa, you were always such an amazing example to me. I have kept this picture of you protecting Grandma from the cold wind on my desk or at my bedside from the time I left on my mission. I use it as a reminder of how I want to be, I hope that I can be a husband to Stephanie like you were to Grandma. I hope I can shelter my loved ones from the cold. I hope that enough of you rubbed off on me for me to be as kind, generous, forgiving, and wonderful as you. I miss you so much already Grandpa. I wish that Stephanie could get to know you better, that my future children could have known you. Selfishly, I wish you were still with us. But I know you are home in the everlasting embrace of our Heavenly Father. Don't worry Grandpa, I'll try to follow your example. My kids will know you because I will tell them all about you. Thank you for being such an inspiration, thank you for raising my wonderful mother, and thank you for watching over me.
When I woke up on Saturday and saw the message from Mom that Grandpa had passed, I responded by saying that I wished we could make it home for the funeral. Finals start on Monday. Christmas is Stephanie's busiest time of year as a photographer. I wish we could make it home for the funeral. It didn't make sense in terms of time or money to try to make it home. But every time I think of you I know that there are more important things than school and money. I'm so glad that I have a wonderful wife who knows that I need to be there. I'm so glad that we found a way to fly home that won't be too expensive. It's currently 2 AM and I can't sleep because I feel like I need to share what I'm feeling. I've cried myself to sleep every night since you passed, I don't think Stephanie has noticed because she's usually asleep before I start to think of you. Don't worry Grandpa, there are more tears of joyful memories than tears of sorrow. I hope you know how much I love you, how much we all love you. The world is a darker place without you, but heaven will be all that much brighter. Until we meet again. I love you.

Grandpa's Obituary
Grandma and Grandpa's 60th Wedding Anniversary Video
I'm a Mormon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If You Think the First Ten are Good, Check Out the Other Seventeen

As some of you may know, I subscribe to the Economist. While I am not always able to read each issue in full, I usually at least get through the briefings section. I like it because it helps me to keep up to date on what is happening outside of the United States. I don't feel so entirely insular and unaware. In addition to keeping me informed about the happenings outside of this nation, I appreciate much of the commentary on the United States, even when I disagree - it is nice to have an outside perspective.

Well, with the elections approaching on Tuesday, I've been thinking a lot about the Tea Party movement and the tendency for some people within our nation to worship the constitution. So, I was very pleased to read a recent article on constitution worship, which can be found here.
I recommend that you read the entire article, but here is one paragraph that really encapsulates how I feel:

"When history is turned into scripture and men into deities, truth is the victim. The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote. Many of their decisions, such as giving every state two senators regardless of population, were the product not of Olympian sagacity but of grubby power-struggles and compromises—exactly the sort of backroom dealmaking, in fact, in which today’s Congress excels and which is now so much out of favour with the tea-partiers. "

There are many people who look upon our constitution as scripture, and it makes me cringe every time I hear it. Don't get me wrong, I love my country and the constitution is an incredible document, I think the founding fathers were visionaries and are rightly venerated. But they should not be worshiped, they were men, not demi-gods, with flaws and disagreements. The constitutional convention was an exercise in compromise. The resulting document is not tantamount to scripture, however inspired some of the founding fathers may have been scripture is the result of divine revelation, the constitution is the result of political negotiation and compromise.

Stephanie recommended that we read the constitution for our family home evening this week, which has only strengthened my resolve to speak out on this topic. Those who worship the constitution all too often speak of going back to the founding fathers, getting back to core constitutional principles, and stopping all this "progress" we've had. I like progress, and all too often those who revel in constitutional originalism fail to remember that the original constitution was a profoundly flawed document with certain provisions that directly lead to a civil war that nearly crushed this nation in its early years. They forget that those demi-gods of democracy we honor so much (Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, etc.) were joined by Charles Pinckneys and Elbridge Gerrys. They forget that after that constitutional convention, the document was felt to be flawed enough that ten amendments were passed only four years after the original document was ratified. And they forget that after those ten amendments, there have been seventeen more.

Each of the seventeen amendments is a part of the constitution. It boggles my mind to hear people proclaim the constitution as inspired while they lament its downfall in one moment only to hear them declare that we should repeal the fourteenth and seventeenth amendments. While I think the seventeenth amendment was a mistake, I am not proclaiming that the constitution is some kind of scripture that we all have fallen away from - all twenty-seven amendments are part of that document, each amendment was passed in accordance with the constitutional provisions allowing them, and as such the entire document is one whole. You cannot claim it as inspired and then denounce the provisions you don't like, it's not a consistent ideology. And it makes me crazy. So, with that introduction I want to introduce you to the constitution in its entirety, its original flaws and how, thankfully, many of them have been overcome.

The three fifths clause: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."
The original constitution never explicitly mentioned race, but in the fourth sentence after the preamble it separated human beings into separate classes (including free persons, indentured servants, Indians, and implicitly slaves) and only acknowledged slaves as 3/5 of a person.

Slave Importation: "The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."
In order for the constitution to be ratified, the northern states had to agree that congress could not pass any laws against the importation of slaves until 1808. While the southern representatives claimed they too abhorred slavery and thought it would die out soon, they knew their home states would not accept the abolition of slavery. Slavery died out so soon that some war was fought over its expansion in the 1860s. Because this clause only operated until 1808 it is still a valid part of the constitution and has not been revoked by subsequent amendments like the other slavery clauses. In other words, reference to slavery is still part of the constitution.

The vice-presidency: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."
The original constitution created an office that John Adams, upon holding said office, called the most useless office ever invented by man. While precedent has been set over the years giving the Vice President more authority, constitutionally it is an almost pointless position other than to have a ready successor to the President and a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

The Fugitive Slave clause: "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."
So often the more conservative part of our electorate proclaims "States' rights" that it makes me laugh to think how the constitution was a document established to limit state rights, to strengthen the federal government, and how in that document even the state sovereignty that was intended to remain was infringed by the slave power. States' rights? If we get back to the original constitution you can't decide who is free or slave within the boundaries of your own state.

1st Amendment - The establishment clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion"
The first clause of the first amendment, separation of church and state. The tea party loves the constitution, we need to get back to our roots - and yet the very first thing amended was to make sure that church and state were separated. Despite Christine O'Donnell's claims, it's in the document, actually it's in the document twice. The third paragraph of the Article VI reads in part "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

9th Amendment - Unenumerated rights: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Despite this amendment, many rights retained by the people are denied and disparaged precisely because they're not enumerated in the constitution. Of course, this is not unconstitutional, as it is people (more often than not those who have placed the constitution on a pedestal) who disparage and deny said rights, not the federal government. But again, it smacks of hypocrisy to love the constitution and deny so many of its provisions, even in the document as established by the founding fathers.

10th Amendment - "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people"
A favorite of those who proclaim the sanctity of states' rights. While I will repeat ad infinitum that states' rights have been used to commit many of the greatest atrocities in our nation's history, and are the reason why we had a civil war and a need for a civil rights movement, I just wanted to point out the last part of this amendment "or to the people."


Okay, now we get to the other seventeen. I'm going to just go over a general review of them first and then get into particulars when it comes to what is important to me, and is often forgotten by those who would exhalt our constitution as it was founded and not as it is. Because we have the ability to change and alter our constitution slavery is now illegal, all people (without respect to color, race, creed, or gender) are entitled to the franchise, our government can levy taxes needed to function (especially important for the military), no single person can have dynastic rule over our country (although I'm glad we had Roosevelt so long), we know who will lead the country even in the event of catastrophe, U.S. Citizens in Washington, D.C. can vote for their president despite not having representation in Congress, no poll taxes are allowed, 18 year olds can vote, and congress can't give itself a pay raise. I may not agree with every change in the constitution, I don't think it's a perfect document. But it is a far superior document today than it was in 1787.

The 14th Amendment -
Citizenship clause - "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
The constitution establishes rights of citizenship, but never defines the term until the 14th Amendment. This is important and yet the tea party (or some members thereof) want to strike this. It is hypocrisy to adulate a document and then to try to change it. Furthermore, all those who claim that President Obama has no right to be President because they don't believe he was born here will lose their argument if there is no more definition of a citizen.
Privileges and immunities clause - "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States"
For the first time, the federal constitution extended its protections to prevent States from violating the federal constitution. Many people don't realize (outrage at certain commentators being fired, or having boycotts threatened against their advertisers) that the rights in the constitution only prevent government intervention. And prior to the 14th Amendment they were only protected against the federal government, now they're protected against state governments as well.
Due process clause - "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"
More protections against government intervention. Strange that the people who do not fear government are the same ones who most laud the 14th amendment and its protections against government intervention in our lives. Don't mess with my 14th Amendment!
Equal protection clause - "nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"
The most important amendment to the constitution (either this or the 1st) was passed more than seventy years after the founding fathers ratified the document. And those who claim to want to get back to the constitution consistently denigrate this amendment. It changed our country so much for the better, and even after it was changed the states, claiming their rights, did everything they could not to follow it. That's why we needed the 15th and 24th amendments as well. But the 14th amendment does have some serious flaws.

Second Section of the 14th Amendment - "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."
All people were finally recognized as whole people by our constitution, but unfortunately for the first time gender is explicitly recognized in our constitution. The right to vote shall not be denied to any male - because of this codification women's suffrage was set back and it would be more than fifty years before the 19th amendment would finally fix that.

I for one am glad that there is no more slavery in our nation, that there are no more Jim Crow laws. I am glad that my wife can vote, that I know I am a U.S. Citizen and what that term means, and that the rights established in the Bill of Rights can't be infringed by the Federal OR State Government. I'm an independent - I would have been a Republican in 1860 and a Democrat today if I had to join a party because I agree with progress. For the most part, the progressives in this country have made it a better place, not a worse one. They have helped us move forward rather than backward - the good old days weren't so great. Teaparty, nobody stole your country from you, they voted according to the established methods defined by the Constitution you so venerate to elect representatives who represent what they desired. If on Tuesday your candidates are elected to office, it will be by the same method.

Vote Tuesday, vote informed, and know why you're doing it. If you don't know who's on the ballot in your area, find out. is an excellent resource to find out about who will be on your ballot. And please, just because you know Person X and dislike what they've done, don't automatically vote for Person Y. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. This is exemplified in Nevada. I don't care how bad you want Reid out of office, Sharron Angle is worse, thankfully Nevada has the option to vote for None of the Above. I happen to like Harry Reid, but even if I didn't, I would still be sick to my stomach that Mitt Romney (somebody I respect but who keeps disappointing me) endorsed Sharron Angle. See more of her below.

And just because I fear the tea party, here's some of the why:

Man arrested for going to Public Event for Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor

Woman Tackled and Stomped On after Debate in Kentucky by Rand Paul (R) Supporters

Reporter Arrested at Joe Miller (R) Alaska event

A Whole Lot of Sharron Angle

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I'm a Mormon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Analogies and Harry Reid

This post is coming a little late to the controversy, but that's how I do things, I suppose. Several weeks ago Senator Harry Reid commented on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" that while he supported the right of those who are building it to build it wherever they want so long as they obtain all the legally required permits, that he does not believe they should build their mosque so close to ground zero. I thought of writing him a letter saying how disappointed I was in him. As a left-leaning Latter-day Saint, it is nice to have Senator Reid as a political example, and I wanted to let him know I support him in most of his actions, hope that he wins against Sharon Angle because the last thing this nation needs is Senator Angle, but to express my frustration that anybody who is LDS would not wholeheartedly support the religious rights of others in this country. Religious intolerance of the LDS people led to an extermination order of all Mormons in the State of Missouri and in the eventual Mormon Exodus to Utah as nobody within any of the States of this Union was willing to accept us. We, of all people, should be especially aware of religious intolerance in our nation.
But, I'm saving that topic for a paper I'm working on in my class on the Equality Principle in U.S. jurisprudence and culture (the idea that all men are created equal and how that has evolved from a constitution that allowed slavery to today). But, I wanted to make a point by way of analogy against the arguments of insensitivity and callousness that are made against the faithful Muslim people who want their community center.

So, SAT style here goes some analogy.
Muslims are to 9/11 terrorists as Christians are to ________
Let's fill in the blank -
Jim Jones
Many famous murderers killing in the name of God
Timothy McVeigh

It's terrible - there are Christian churches within blocks of where these people terrorized people. Don't you know it's disrespectful to those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing for a church to be near there? How could you be so insensitive?

That's a ludicrous argument, just as the argument that having a mosque near the World Trade Center site is disrespectful to those who died on 9/11. Muslims died on 9/11 too.
The people I named above corrupted Christianity! They aren't real Christians, they're people who corrupted and twisted a beautiful religion for their own sick purposes. Just like the 9/11 terrorists.
I read somewhere a rebuttal against the idea that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian, where the author wrote "His action and deeds definitely does not reflect that of a virtuous believer." Timothy McVeigh did not act in the name of God, it is true, and his actions are not those of a virtuous believer. Nor were the actions of the 9/11 terrorists those of virtuous believers in Islam.
It is not insensitive to build Christian churches near where members of a Christian faith have committed terrible deeds, it's a blessing that others can see that Christianity is not what those people represent, but the beautiful religion of "virtuous believers" in Christianity. I believe the same is true with Islam and mosques.

Monday, May 3, 2010

DMV Adventures

It's finals season. I don't need this. I need to be finishing my twenty page paper, and studying for final exams that must be taken by the end of this week. I need to be focused on Professional Responsibility and Land Use Planning, not the code of motor vehicle for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
First of all, let me stress that up until May 01, 2010 I have been in complete compliance with the law, although I have had some challenges. You see, back in May of 2009 it was time for me to re-register my vehicle. I was living in Virginia at the time, but didn't want to deal with going to the DMV and all the procedures it would take to change my registration so I just quick renewed online with the State of Utah. They processed my credit card and let me print out a temporary registration until the new permanent one and the license plate sticker would be mailed to me. Not thinking, I didn't update my information and so they still had my address as my grandparent's address in Pleasant Grove, Utah. No big deal, I thought, my grandparents forward me everything and the temporary registration will give me a nice comfortable window. I waited and it never arrived; I asked my grandparents, they never received my registration; I contacted the DMV and they said the address did not exist. Of course it exists! I've visited my loving grandparents since, it's an amazing wonderful home and it's the same address I used for years while at BYU. My temporary registration has it on there accurately.
Oh well, I thought, I know I've complied with the law and if cited I can prove registration if I have to, no big deal. Virginia police won't be happy with my Utah plates anyhow! As a member of one of my old bishoprics, Steve Leetham, used to tell us he never put the new sticker on his plates until he got pulled over. He would just keep his new registration in the car and when asked about it he would pull out the current registration and apologize that he forgot to put the stickers on. He was former police officer, it was a fun game he played. I wasn't concerned about it and when I was pulled over last July 4, the police officer saw my expired registration and said "that's alright, I can tell you own it from this." It was good enough for the officer!
Fast forward to today. I go to the Virginia DMV's website on Saturday and look up the requirements to change my driver's license and registration, I figure I might as well, we might end up staying here after I graduate and insurance is cheaper if I'm registered here. We go to the dealership and get my car's safety inspection done, taking time away from my studies. I fill out the forms ahead of time, make sure I have all the items I need.
Today (Monday), we go to the information desk at the DMV, they ask if I have the proofs I need - proof of address, proof of legal presence, proof of title, and proof of Social Security. I have the proof of address, apparently my debit card being mailed to me doesn't count and we get electronic bank statements so I don't have any of those. The utilities are all in Stephanie's name and we need a letter with MY name on it, not hers. Ah, but they say a pay stub will work for proof of address and I printed out my last pay stub (you see, as with most things I'm paid electronically as well). The information desk looks it over, sees my social security card and says that works as proof of social security (why I need social security to drive, I'm still unsure), the pay stub works, my old registration she thinks will work to prove title even though they need it within the past year and it expired April 30, 2009 (1 year and 3 days ago), but for a driver's license I need my birth certificate for proof of legal residence. I have never needed my birth certificate for anything! I don't have it here, I don't know if I've ever seen it...
Quick aside - proof of legal presence, that means proof that I am legally in the United States. I was born in Utah 27 years ago, I have left the country on one occasion, all the way to Tijuana for about 3 hours. I have a current driver's license, social security card, and am working and going to school in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am a U.S. Citizen, my family has been here for generations. But proof of legal presence is required for a driver's license in Virginia. And, although it only cost me $18 and a quick Internet search to request my birth certificate, which should be here in 7-10 business days, right now I have no proof of my citizenship that will satisfy the Commonwealth of Virginia. That is why the new Arizona law is so frightening, if they aren't racially profiling, which they claim they aren't, then there is no way to have a truly reasonable suspicion that somebody is here illegally. It is either illegal and racist, or police could have a reasonable suspicion of me being here illegally. I just found out today that it will take me 7-10 business days to have proof of legal presence. I could be in jail for that time. That's not what they're doing, they are racially profiling, at least that's what I believe. But if they aren't - well, I could be in jail for 7-10 days waiting for a birth certificate to show that I'm a citizen. That's why the law is jacked up. I mean, there's a not insignificant segment of our population that does not believe our president is a citizen of the United States - if the President has trouble proving he's a citizen, why do you think you'll have an easier time? Okay, off from my aside.

Oh well, no driver's license - I'm a student and my Utah license is still current, I'm still law abiding if I can just register my car. So, give up on the driver license and seek the registration. The woman at the information desk thinks what we have will suffice. We wait in line, our number is called, we go up - proof of address please? Hand them the letter that my bank sent my bank card in, to this address - sorry, we can't accept that. Hand them a letter from the County Attorney's office, nope - that's not on the list. Okay, well, the woman at the information desk said that my pay stub will work - so here's my pay stub. You just printed that off, I don't know if we can accept that. Well, I'm paid electronically. Let me check. No we can't accept that, (hands me the list of things they can accept, clearly states pay stub, nowhere does it say no printed pay stubs) voter registration card? have it but not at my current address, I was going to update that today, bank statement? electronic, utility bill? still all in my wife's name. We don't have anything with us, go home and search for our taxes - there's my W-2 and tax return, full folder. Yay! In the mean time I order my birth certificate and check, just in case, on how I can get my Utah registration that is freshly expired instead of just over a year expired, $4 sent by letter with a copy of my driver license.

Here is the handwritten letter I am mailing them today:
"Dear Utah DMV,
I registerd my car last year in your great state but never received my registration. I would like to register my vehicle in Virginia now but they want to see my registration with you. It's okay that it's expired. I am enclosing a check for $4.00 (four dollars and 00/100). Please forward me a copy of my registration.

Much thanks,

Isaac K. Adams

P.S. Letter writing is a slow process and unduly onerous. I hope some day that telephone and/or Internet requests might satisfy your insatiable bureaucratic needs. It is also wasteful."

Annoying, but maybe the DMV will accept the registration I have, after all it's only 3 days past a year (I know you have to draw the line somewhere but ugh!) and I have the temporary registration that shows that the registration was renewed. Stand in line at the information desk again. You're back? They wouldn't accept my pay stub. They wouldn't accept your pay stub? Nope, she starts getting us the forms again. We still have the form, it's okay, we just need a number. Back in the chair waiting, number finally called. Up to the desk, we bring the tax returns - she barely looks at them, they're legit so it's all good. There's no process of confirming them, just a quick eyeball. But they couldn't accept my 9 other proofs of address... oh well. The process is almost done - where is the car titled? I don't have the title, I'm financing the car (as I assume most people are, majority of Americans don't own, they finance or lease.... but the law is written for owners and barely accounts for those who might finance or lease). I had checked the website and it asked for my title, I knew I couldn't bring it, the bank has it and it's electronic so I brought my registration - the woman at the desk said it should work. I'm sorry, we need something within the last year. So we're 3 days late? Yes, I'm sorry.

So, I ask the woman, hypothetically speaking - if I were to let my registration expire on a financed vehicle for more than a year and decided I wanted to register it again (nothing wrong with that if you're not driving it) what would I need to do? You would need to get the car registered in the state of title and then you could come here with that registration and we could take care of it. But I don't have the title, the bank does. Yes, but the place where you bought the car is where it's titled, even if the bank doesn't exist there. Wow.... so I have to drive my car back to Utah to get it inspected and have it go through emissions testing (the reason I can't renew online this year), pay all those fees, then drive it 2000 back here to comply with the law that wants my car registered. Isn't there another way? Well, you could call the lienholder and tell them you need to register the car in Virginia, have them release the title to you and have title transferred to Virginia then reassess the lien. Hmmm - I tried to refinance my car two months ago and they barely let me see a copy of my title, they said I wasn't even allowed to see it for purposes of refinancing, I don't think they're going to let me do that.

Defeat. I can't comply with the law, not for another few weeks. I need my car, I want to have it registered, but I can't... They won't let me. It's safety inspected. It's a good car. You know the VIN and the ownership and everything, but the registration from last year didn't get sent to me, and the other one has been expired for one year and three days... I was three days late. Now I'm supposed to be studying and writing and working on school and I'm distracted by this. I just want to register my car!

Dear DMV personnel. I know you don't write the laws and you have no control over what you're allowed to accept, I get that. It is a largely thankless job that has been derided much over the year. I'm not upset with you. I'm just frustrated.

Dear House of Commons for the Commonwealth of Virginia. And, to a similar extent Dear Legislature of Utah. Please, realize why you have these laws and recognize that the main purpose is for public safety. Also, please realize we are in the 21st century. So much has gone electronic, we have the option of receiving everything other than our tax documents electronically on your list of proofs of address, Virginia, if we had gotten married one month later I would have no proof of address at my current address. Utah, you tried to take my registration away when I lived there because you didn't think I had insurance - I did have insurance but you didn't think I did and you caused me great stress. Now you failed to send me my registration, I realize it's largely my fault, but you're also charging me four dollars for something I've already paid you for. And you will only accept this four dollars by letter delivered by the USPS. Guess what, there are ways to have secure transactions - I can get my proof of citizenship (birth certificate) over the Internet with a Credit Card, I need my registration ASAP, as do most people who lose their vehicle registration. Get with the times and make something other than check by mail available as a way of requesting my registration, please.

You make me not want to register my vehicle when I have to go through this. I'd rather risk getting pulled over and paying the fine. Ugh. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thoughts on Veterans' Day and the 17th Amendment

So, I realize that I'm a little past due on this one. What with Veteran's day being on Wednesday and me not writing this until now. I've really been thinking a lot about our Veterans and all that they do for us since Stephanie and I went to the Vietnam Memorial back in July. As we walked past those walls, filled with the names of so many young lives lost, tears filled my eyes. Steph asked me if I was okay. Just standing there and seeing how much was sacrificed made me at once grateful and outraged. There was a man leading a tour of some sort there, he was talking about the brave men and women who fought for our nation in that conflict and he said "freedom isn't free." Freedom isn't free. That's a concept I agree with wholeheartedly. But it seemed so wrong in the context of the Vietnam War Memorial.
What does "freedom isn't free" have to do with that fight? Decades removed from the social, cultural, and political sentiment of that time, it's impossible for me to understand how we can say that so many valuable lives were lost in the cause of freedom. Whose freedom? Maybe I just don't understand.
Freedom isn't free. I study and learn of the Revolutionary War and it's impact and effect on so many lives. The sacrifice not only of lives lost but lives dedicated to the concept of a better nation. I think of the struggles of the Civil War, and lives lost to hold our nation and its ideals together, and free a race from the oppression of slavery. I think of the World Wars and the fight against tyranny and despotism. But when it comes to Vietnam and, to a lesser extent Korea, I have a harder time understanding how that sacrifice is for freedom.
Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I always admired the Anti-nephi-lehies more than there children in the Army of Helaman. John McCain says that his favorite book is Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and also lists among his favorite books Erich Maria Remarque's classic World War I novel "All Quiet on the Western Front." Despite my disagreements with many of the policies he said he supported, I maintained hope that he wasn't the warhawk old codger he seemed because of that. Those two books are powerful documents about the fraternity soldiers feel, and of the great tragedy it is when men in power send them to death for trinkets. I love those books, and had intended to re-read them before making this post. I've been thinking about this post since July, but with Veteran's day it seemed appropriate. The great lesson of "All Quiet on the Western Front" for me is this, valiant young men fight and die in battles of powerful men who never learn what true sacrifice is.
I apologize for meandering like this. I suppose you may not get my point. My point is this - First, thank you veterans for your willingness to serve, for your devotion to the founding principles of this country, and for the sacrifices you have made. I am not cut out for what you do, but I thank you every day for doing it. And though I may disagree with some of you on certain issues, I respect you for all you do for this great country. Second, do not take your duties lightly, you leaders of men. Mr. President, you and our past presidents have a great obligation to value and respect the lives of your brothers who have volunteered to serve this country. There are times when freedom needs to be defended, I may admire their parents more but I love the Sons of Helaman who gave their all to protect their homes and family. Please, don't waste another precious drop of blood on a conflict that you aren't certain is for a good cause. Not for politics, but for family, for country, for true principles - not forced upon foreign nations. Freedom isn't free, and it is also implicit in the idea of freedom that people must choose liberty for themselves. Please, don't ever waste our nation's valiant sons on another conflict for political or fiscal gain. Life is far too precious.

Now, on to another topic. I hope I don't seem disrespectful in addressing this issue in a post meant primarily to honor our veterans. I hope they take my comments in that sense. Those veterans I know personally are great men. I want to discuss now our Constitution and the respect we give to the founding fathers and their ideas.
First, there is a significant legal community that seeks a complete originalist interpretation of the constitution. To them I say this, remember that the original intent of our Constitution is that of compromise between many competing political ideologies. That is part of why it is such a miraculous document. Remember further that as lauded as it is (and rightfully so), that original document included certain inherently flawed concepts, including the idea that some people were not people at all. Luckily, the constitution had a system for amendment, and the 14th Amendment helped to end that tyranny.
Today I would like to talk about what is, in my personal opinion, the worst amendment to our constitution. The 17th amendment completely changed our system of politics in ways that are mostly unhealthy. When the founders ratified the constitution they sought to compromise between various strongly held political beliefs. The two ideologies in greatest conflict were those of the federalists and anti-federalists. You see, our nation was founded on the idea of a confederation of States - each State sovereign to itself and yet United under one central government. Hence our name, The United States of America.
After the success of the Revolutionary War the former British colonies were united under the Articles of Confederation, in which each individual state's sovereignty was valued far more than the central government, and as such the central government was impotent. Seeing the need for a union that would last, important leaders gathered at the Constitutional Convention to ratify a document that would recognize each state's sovereignty while giving the federal government enough power to be effective.
Those who fought for states' rights argued that the central government needed to be weaker, others argued that there was great need for the federal government to be supreme and far more powerful. In order to overcome the conflict of opinion, compromise was reached. There would be two legislative houses, a bicameral system of legislation. This division of legislative houses was incredibly significant at the time. The House of Representatives was elected by the people, representing the interests of people in their district and being up for re-election every second year. This system was put in place to insure that the representatives be truly representative of their constituents - this is the representative democracy that gives our form of government its name, Democratic Republic.
If we have a representative democracy in our Democratic Republic, where is the Republic part? That is the higher house of congress, the Senate. As envisioned by our founding fathers who struggled to make a system of balances that not only checked the powers of different branches of the federal government against one another, but also checked the federal government against each sovereign state's government. As part of this envisioned proceeding they decided that the senate would consist of two people from every state being elected for terms of six years. They would stagger the elections so that only one senator would be up for election at any one time. And these senators, these men who were elected to represent their states were to be chosen, not by voice of the people but rather by voice of the state legislature.
Then came the 17th amendment, people decided that they didn't want their duly elected legislatures of their home states to do the electing, but rather the people of the state. This eliminated the republican portion of our government, making that higher house answer directly to the people rather than to their states. Why is this bad? The one legislative body that was supposed to be representative of the sovereign states, the legislative body that serves longer because it is meant to be immune from the whimsy of a less informed public, just became a sort of super house of representatives. The senate no longer represents a state's interests, it represents the common voters interests.
The founding fathers recognized that the average voter does not have time to fully understand and research the positions of everybody running for high office. They also understood that the most important elections, for everybody, are those elections closest to home. As such, they put in place a system that emphasized knowing and voting for the officers closest to you, who would have to answer to you - representatives in your local district going to the house of representatives and state legislators going to the statehouse from your precinct. By making senators a statewide, popularly elected body we de-emphasized the importance of electing our state legislators, that used to be how we had a say in who went to the U.S. Senate. And we weakened our system of State and Federal governance. The individual, sovereign states became less sovereign, corruption was pushed further along the chain, and high money/high power donors gained an overly powerful influence on those running for higher office.
It used to be that there wasn't much value in buying off a senator, because the legislature back home would be aware of that and shut it down. You could buy off the state legislatures, sure, but that's more people who are closer to the voters, and then our right to vote was more powerful, the corruption was closer to us and so we had more say. The corruption got pushed further down the line so we don't see it as much, and so we have less say in controlling it. I hate the 17th amendment.
Okay, sorry - just wanted to share that. My thoughts were a little scattered. Oh, and I suppose I should probably also share that I proposed on Sunday November 8th. She said yes. We're getting married on December 15th in Utah, the reception will be the night before. If you'd like an announcement/invitation please send me your address. Contact me for more details. Some people might be mad if I made a whole blogpost without mentioning that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thematically Speaking

I know. I've had a brief hiatus from blogging. I apologize. It may have been somewhat more than brief. July 10? Nothing has happened since then! Good news for anybody who actually follow my blog though - I almost never write anything directly about what has been happening in my life, so you don't really miss out on anything - I just meander and share thoughts. A few quick notes before I start off on my latest diatribe. First off, I'm alive and well, working hard with school, work, and two jobs (I've been doing some work for a family law practice here in Richmond). I have a lot of ideas I've been yearning to get down, so you lucky few who read this will get to have a taste of those. So, upcoming blog posts: First, this week is a week of birth, the past few weeks have been weeks of rebirth - I'll be writing another post on birth and what it means to me in the wake of these past weeks and especially the past few days: my beautiful niece Honor was born to my amazing little sister Amanda and her loving husband, Craig. My Grandfather just celebrated another year of life. My dear older brother just had his birthday. These are some of the most important people in my life. I have to recognize them, hopefully I'll get my thoughts out soon. Later this week.
Next, I've given two talks in church since my last post, I think they're pretty good and hopefully you'll enjoy reading them. They'll be edited and posted sometime soon as well: one on obedience and one on education. Also: an analysis of Where the Wild Things Are - I love film and want to try out an in-depth analysis, in conformity with my post today. Upcoming: Freedom isn't Free and what that means - I've got two books to read before I make that post, but I've been thinking about it since July. Hopefully my thoughts will be of some worth.

Now, a quick post. When I was in my high school freshman English class, my teacher, Jasper Warembourg, told us all that up until that time most of us had only ever read books for plot, and that he was going to teach us how to read for theme. I don't even know whether I did learn the difference then, but I know now that learning that difference was one of the most important lessons I've learned in my life. Plot is important, but theme is essential. That is the difference between a true classic and cultural fads. I read the first book of the Twilight series, and I have some serious qualms about its structure, style, and substance. But recently I realized that the real reason that I find little value in that series is that it is based almost entirely on plot. There is no richness of theme, no deeper meaning behind the stories to be told. I find that Harry Potter is a series of books that is also not extremely well written, and I also have serious issues with it's style and substance. Rowling uses many of the crutches that Mayer does, but she is a superior author in her form. Despite that, it is the richness of theme that saves Rowling. Albeit a typical thematic choice, the Harry Potter explores the nature of right and wrong, politics, and the challenges of growing into maturity. Perhaps I underestimate Mayer's work - it seems that, thematically speaking, she may be addressing adolescence and growth into adulthood in her own way. Perhaps it is something that is more thematically rich to those who have experienced female adolescence, I cannot understand its appeal.
Excuse that digression, I mean it only as an illustration. My favorite works are often blunt in their themes - C.S. Lewis was straight allegorical, and Hugo used blunt tools as well. But despite the bluntness of the theme, its profundity and richness has touched my heart. Truly great works, whether they be in film, music, literature, or whatever medium, have levels of depth and meaning to them. So it is in our lives, each moment can have greater meaning than we recognize, and to reach greatness, I believe, we must be able to recognize the depth of meaning in our own lives. I have heard it said that when you have the proper spirit, even the worst sermon will touch your soul. I agree, but I also feel that there also exists a part in the sermon. A person who sees the themes in the world, a person who follows the spirit, will recognize profound truths in even the smallest and simplest things. But this is not to say that the same person, when guided by the spirit, cannot find far greater things in that which is truly prfound....

Hopefully my musings have some sense to them. I apologize if they don't. In closing, just in case I fail to write as soon as I intend - Cy, Grandpa, and Honor.... Happy Birthday! Thank you so much for loving and supporting me, Cy and Grandpa. You've both been such wonderful influences in my life. And Honor, you have an amazing mother and father - and aunts and uncles aplenty who will spoil you (as well as your grandparents!!) welcome to the world. I cannot wait to meet and hold you, I love you already.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Fathers

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to express how grateful I am for the fathers in my life. I hope you will indulge me, as I introduce my topic today by telling you about my fathers. Many of you know my grandfather, and I hope those of you that do can recognize the spiritual giant that he is. For the past 3 years, I have lived with him and my grandmother, and that opportunity has been one of the greatest of my life. During this time he has been my father away from home. He is one of the kindest, most generous, and most loving people I have ever known, and a patriarch in every sense of the word. I hope some day that I might be able to say that I lived a life as good as his. [I have a picture of he and my grandmother next to my bed, they’re on a cruise in Alaska, and he is comforting her from the cold… that picture is a goal for me in life, I want to emulate my grandpa in my life.]

Then there’s my stepfather, Scott. A drinking, smoking, foul-mouthed catholic [and former pig farmer and long-haul truck driver from outside of Chicago] who met a single LDS mother of 5 and changed his life. He came into my mother’s life when she was truly struggling, and was willing to help her raise 5 children between the ages of 8 and 15. At the same time he gave up smoking and drinking and began to attend church with us despite the differences in our beliefs. With time, he took the discussions, joined the church, and was sealed to my mother. I can only hope he knows how much I love him, I don’t know where me and my siblings would be without him. And for being a support to my mother during one of the most difficult times of her life, I will be eternally grateful to him.

Which brings me to my father… those of you who have heard me talk of my dad have probably heard me say that he is my ultimate example, of both how and how not to live. I love my dad more than words can fully convey. And I will use his story, and mine, as a narrative of a much larger and more important topic today. When I was 10 years old, I thought my parents had the perfect marriage, I thought my dad (who served as our ward’s Elder’s quorum president) would be our next bishop, my dad was my hero. Suffice it to say, on my tenth birthday I was not prepared for the year that would come. Over the following year my parents would separate and then divorce, and my dad would be excommunicated from the church. My father, my hero, had fallen.

Brothers and sisters, although my fathers have always been there for me I am aware that not all are so lucky. [Unfortunately, because of circumstance, many have lost their fathers prematurely, and even more unfortunately, some fathers neglect their duty towards their children. Although that has never been the case for me, I have known what it is like to be in the only worthy priesthood holder in my home, as a deacon. I remember on more than one occasion getting myself up and walking to church when nobody else would. I remember finding for the first time in my life just how important it is that I not only had fathers here on earth, but that I had a heavenly father.]

It is the first article of our faith that “we believe in God, the eternal Father,” OUR eternal Father. And the best-known hymn in the church expresses that same, simple truth that far too often goes under-appreciated. “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here.” [As we have recently celebrated our mothers, and as today we celebrate our fathers, I urge you to remember the truth taught in that hymn, that he has given us our earthly home, and our beloved parents.] Despite all the emphasis given to this most important of doctrines, I am saddened along with Elder Holland who noted in 2003 that “some in the contemporary world suffer from a distressing misconception of (God)… there is a tendency to feel distant from the Father, even estranged from Him, if they believe in Him at all. And if they do believe, many moderns say they might feel comfortable in the arms of Jesus, but they are uneasy contemplating the stern encounter of God.” Jeffrey R. Holland – the Grandeur of God, October 2003

Joseph Smith taught that "it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.” He said “I want you all to know Him and to be familiar with Him.” History of the Church 6:305 and he admonished us to have "a correct idea of his . . . perfections, and attributes…the excellency of [His] character." Lectures on Faith (38, 42)

Brothers and sisters, the primary character of God is that of a Father. Of all the titles given to God, the supreme Governor of the universe, perhaps Abba (Daddy) is the most appropriate. When we address one another as Brother or Sister, we are expressing a most profound truth. We are all, in a very real sense, children of the same loving father.

[My dad grew up on a dairy farm in Lindon. He was one of ten children. He gained the ability to work hard and a lot of toughness. He was a successful high school basketball and football player. In spite of his size he made all-state on the offensive line for Pleasant Grove High School. Since he was young, he would get up early to go fishing by himself, and every year he eagerly awaits hunting season. If there is such a thing as a cowboy, my dad fits the description – when he talks about his mission he often says that one day he was out birthing calves in a field and the next he was in a suit and tie, and trying to understand the accents of the Irish people he had been told spoke English. There is no place where my dad is more comfortable than up in the mountains. ]

[For as long as I can remember my dad has worked as either a maintenance man or a janitor, taking on as many side jobs as he can to pay the bills. He has cleaned pools, dug trenches, milked cows, coached basketball and fixed just about anything on the side just to keep his head above water. He works almost 80 hrs/week, despite health problems and despite the fact that both his knees have lost their cartilage and need to be replaced. Life is not easy for him. And] on more than one occasion, while looking in my eyes he has said to me – “I may not have a lot in this life, but I have 6 wonderful children who have grown to be amazing people, despite their father. If it weren’t for you kids, I think I might just go up in the mountains and live.” Please believe me when I say that if anybody could and would do it, it’s my dad. If I’m sure of anything in this life I am sure that my dad loves me more than I can understand – I know that the love of a father towards his children is truly great.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 One of the best known scriptures in Christendom again conveys the same simple message I hope to convey to you today. God is the Father of our spirits and he loves us more than we can understand. He sent his only begotten son, our elder brother to this earth because he loves us, because he is our father.

When Enoch spoke to God and saw him cry, he asked, "How is it that thou canst weep? . . . Thou art just [and] merciful and kind forever; . . . Peace . . . is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?" And Our Father responded:
"Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands. . . . I gave unto them . . . [a] commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. . . . Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?" Moses 7:29–33, 37.

I don’t know if there is a greater example of God’s nature as our father than that found in Moses 7. He who is above all things weeps over us, because he so loves us. He is our Father.

When I was nine I went to my parents bedroom and asked them, “what if the church isn’t true? what if Joseph Smith just made it up?” My dad looked at me and rather than correct my doubt or panic about my question just asked, “What if he did just make it up, Isaac? What then?” I believe that moment was when I first started gaining a testimony of this work for myself. I stopped an thought, and I began to recognize that I didn’t understand a world where the gospel wasn’t true. That day I started on the path toward conversion. In the ensuing years, despite all that has happened my dad has been a great influence on my testimony. This excommunicated member, who has been the victim of vicious rumors, and who has lost most of the friends that he had in the church has never denied his testimony. Because of my father here on earth I have come to know my Eternal Father. And because of my Eternal Father I know the truth of this gospel. Bear Testimony.